In a huge expulsion that has boosted relations between the two historically friendly countries, a Russian ambassador claims that two flights carrying dozens of Russian diplomats and their families have left Bulgaria.
Bulgaria’s SOFIA (AP) — According to a Russian official, two Russian aircraft left Bulgaria on Sunday carrying a large number of Russian diplomats and their families amid a sweeping expulsion that has raised tensions between the historically friendly countries.
High-ranking Russian diplomat Filip Voskresenski revealed to journalists at the airport in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, before the flights took off that he was one of the 70 members of the Russian diplomatic service who were deemed “persona non grata” last week and instructed to leave the nation by the end of Sunday.
Acting Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who took a firm position against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, announced the decision to expel Bulgaria. Petkov, whose government was overthrown by a no-confidence vote on June 22, claimed Moscow employed “hybrid war” strategies.
After the expulsion, according to Petkov, 43 of Russia’s personnel will remain on the payroll, whereas Bulgaria only has 12 diplomats stationed in Moscow.
“Anyone who works against Bulgaria’s interests will be asked to return to their country of origin,” he warned.
Eleonora Mitrofanova, the Russian ambassador, gave Bulgaria until Friday to change its mind or face full diplomatic severance from Moscow.
She stated in a statement: “I want to promptly raise the matter of the closing of the Russian Embassy in Bulgaria, which will inevitably lead to the closure of the Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Moscow.
The expulsion, which has seriously strained diplomatic ties, represents the largest-ever expulsion of Russian diplomats by Bulgaria, a member of the European Union and NATO. Since Moscow started its conflict with Ukraine more than four months ago, Bulgaria has firmly endorsed the sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow.
In response to Russia’s “unjustified threat,” the European Union, of which Bulgaria is a member since 2007, declared that it “stands in full support and solidarity with Bulgaria.”
After Bulgarian officials rejected a Moscow demand that they pay their gas bills in rubles, Russia turned off gas supplies to Bulgaria in late April. Early in March, Bulgaria’s defense minister was also fired for using the Kremlin-preferred term “special military operation” to describe Russia’s conflict.
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